The year was 2006. I was at UC Santa Cruz for the MALCS conference specifically for the Regenerations WOC Film Festival. As a twentysomething Xicana Femme, I was in awe of not only the beauty of all the mujeres there but also of all the work that was going on. The air was thick with the want and need for a new world. Something outside of the current paradigm. I took my seat, sat back and enjoyed the films that were being shown. Just as the afternoon was coming to a close, Adelina Anthony is introduced and she begins to perform an excerpt of “Bruising for Besos.”
I was moved to tears. I guess you can say that’s where my love affair with Adelina’s work began, I’ve been following/supporting her work ever since. When Bamby e-mailed me and asked me if I wanted to interview Adelina for xQsí, I jumped at the chance to interview one of my sheroes.
Adelina took some time for xQsí Magazine to talk about Community, Artistic Collaborations, Self-Care, and the perceived rift between Artists, Academics and Activists.
Adelina Anthony: In my early 20s I was introduced to the concept of community (as I understand it today) through the works of Chicana lesbians and womyn of color writers, artists and thinkers who were talking about community through multiple political lenses, and also noting its fluidity. In addition to these formative concepts, I personally speak to “community” in a plural sense. So my definition starts by acknowledging that we’re always members of several spaces and we have relationship(s) to many bodies—which is usually how the drama originates! Seriously, building communities has had different meanings for me over the years because I’ve been involved in various communities either as an activist, educator, artist or just an acknowledged member.
Today, the idea and practice of building communities is absolutely connected to my art. It’s what I have to offer to push and to shape our dialogues and experiences for a more just world. If we want to build communities, part of the work requires talking about and working through difficult — taboo — subjects. Arte helps us do this. Plus, the art requires I bring the best of myself to the table. I sometimes joke with my audiences about being on a “collective date” together, but it’s true. I know I’m my most honest, interesting and generous self on that stage. It’s the space I’ve learned to be the most courageous because you can’t lie in your art or let your ego lead you. If the arte is all about ego, then the artist has failed in a deep, fundamental way.
Moreover, we all know building “communities” in abstract form is easier said than the actual practice of it — because we’re dealing with human beings. And the feminists got it right: the personal is political. So while I try to have a broader reach through my art in how I help to build communities, like everyone else, I’m doing the best that I can on the personal level.
XQSÍ: We’ve seen you work/collaborate with artists such as D’lo and as part of Tragic Bitches. Tell us a little about how connecting with other artist. How has your community building experience been like with other people that share your artistic craft?
AA: Yes, artistic collaborations have always been part of my trajectory. Some art forms art just collaborative in nature, especially if its performance/theater/film. I feel blessed about all of the kinds of artists I’ve worked with over the last twenty years. The beautiful thing about collaboration is that you’re reminded you’re not going at it alone. The shared vision or aesthetics makes community building much richer.
Lately, I’ve been more grateful for this reminder, because I do spend so much time writing and working alone before I go into a rehearsal process. So in the last four years, I’ve been blessed to be in the room with D’Lo, Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano, Cherríe Moraga, Celia Herrera Rodríguez and Mark Valdez to name a few of the folks who’ve been critical collaborators. And because you do come in contact with so many methodologies when you collaborate with others it teaches you about your own work boundaries, ethic and discipline. This is where I’m at today, understanding how I work and what kinds of artists and collaborations I want to be a part of in the upcoming years. Sometimes a collaboration captures a special moment in time. Sometimes if extends over many years. In either case, it teaches you something about yourself — if you stay aware in the process.
It’s connected to community building, because sometimes we conceptualize our communities as these large amorphous groups, but your communities can include just a few people who share in vision. That’s why the art has to show our flawed and vulnerable selves, because the building of communities means embracing fallible humans. Even if we come to each other with the best of intentions, we will make mistakes along our journey.
XQSí: There are sometimes divides/rifts within communities of Artists, Activists, and Academics. Each group effects change in a different way (and sometimes the work can overlap) the work that each group does is important but can effect change in a different manner to different groups of people. How do you think that we can work together as AAA in order to further our cultura as joteria in a non-hierarchical/non-competitive manner?
AA: I think your observation answered it. We must recognize that Artists, Activists, and Academics do both unique and overlapping work and that each person in their primary role affects change. I identify as an artist first. But I’m clear that my work is also activist and academic in nature. The same can be said of someone else who might be an
academic primarily, but finds creative ways to challenge her students and might also be an activist in the classroom because of the content she teaches and the ideas she spurs.
If we want to further our cultura as jotería in non-competitive ways we have to be honest that competition exist in our communities mainly because of celos or people making judgment calls and assumptions on others without knowing them. I made a choice over a decade ago to compete only with myself. I set a high bar, but can work at my own pace
for improving and growing as an artist. This means I’m not looking outwardly to gauge my success, and I can truly celebrate the success of others because I’m not in competition with them.
As for the hierarchical component, I appreciate the conversation when it includes nuance. Sometimes our negative reaction to hierarchy stems from power imposed upon us, and usually because this power is connected to some unearned privilege (gender, class, race/ethnicity, etc.). But if we embrace the definition of hierarchy in regards to leadership and seniority, there’s absolute value in it. I want astute and wise leadership in my life, because we have something to learn from every generation. There are some truly gifted leaders in our communities and I value them. If the leadership rank is earned, merited or voted in through group consensus—why would we not establish some forms of hierarchy? Good leaders are action-oriented, thoughtful, open to feedback and keep the collective good in mind. Clearly, I’m not advocating for bad or toxic leadership.
I’ve also been part of non-hierarchical collectives where people have a lot of great ideas and want to share in equal power and benefits, but sometimes the “collective” will rarely lift a finger and yet complain about the leaders who do the actual work. That’s unfair and I don’t participate in such circles. Collectives can work, but if you examine them closely, there’s usually some hierarchy in place, however subtle. Hierarchy doesn’t have to be pejorative.
XQSÍ: We can’t look at healing Community as a whole without looking at healing individual member, especially ourselves. Have you struggled against the instinct (especially as a Xican@ identified person with all the internalized negativity around self-care) to put others (in this case, the community) first, in order to preserve your own health (physical, spiritual, emotional)? What are some ways you navigate that?
AA: Yes, I absolutely struggled with this for most of my life. For one, like many Xican@s my childhood and home-life created dynamics that I carried with me into adulthood. I’m the eldest of eight and, especially when I was small, I always felt a need to protect my mother. Cliché as it is, I spent a lot of time in my lesbian relationships being an emotional caretaker and putting my own needs last. Making those healthy choices for one’s personal life can be extremely difficult at first. Sometimes the choices go against what we’ve been doing for years, and maybe we don’t always choose correctly, but how else to learn? We have to learn that sometimes it’s about letting go of someone you love, because they’re not right for you or can’t give you what you need.
I also know many of us carry these learned emotional behaviors into our work. We work as hard as we love. But we eventually burn out on all levels: spiritual, physical and emotional. If we’re not careful it can change us and turn us into bitter, cynical, depressed or angry people because we’re carrying the weight of all that negativity against our communities on our shoulders. But what good does it do us or anyone else if we are toxic? We have to push those emotions through our bodies and not let them corrupt us.
But because there tends to be a stigma around self-care and therapy in our communities, I did not learn how to navigate such emotions or how to slow down early on. It required my mother’s death and a torrent of other losses in my mid-30’s to force me to stop. I literally went through a two-year period where I had to re-evaluate everything in my life, including how I chose partners and why and how I made art. It meant I had to seriously listen to my therapist that time she asked, “When do you take a day off?” The concept was so foreign to me, I’m sure I balked at the idea for a few months. But I don’t anymore. It’s radical and necessary to practice self-care, to go beyond the superficial self-esteem jargon of “love yourself.” And I mean actually do it. Love yourself first, before you expect others to love you, because no amount of outside love makes up for how you love yourself. Again, not talking about narcissism here, just self-compassion.
Granted, after therapy, it took me another couple of years to really begin to master it, to do something as simple as take Sundays (or a weekend) off and here’s the kicker— not feel guilty about it. Where does that guilt come from? I suspect it’s old, old colonial shit. Really, I hate to be crass, but it’s true. If we think about the fact that colonization enslaved our peoples of color for centuries, and required that we work non-stop or be killed. It messed with our sense of balance. So that work ethic we’re proud of and that Corporate America loves us for. well, the irony is that if it goes unchecked and unbalanced it does what our ancestors were trying to avoid back in their enslaved days — it kills us.
My ancestors did not die and survive for me to make myself sick or kill myself in this system of corporate greed. This is how I stopped feeling guilty. I walk my path as whole and healthy as possible because I answer to those who sacrificed for me to exist. I want to model health for those younger folks and children I love. People who love you will ask you to stop and slow down, because they want to see you healthy. All of us have worked with unhealthy people, and in the end, it does more damage than good.
XQSÍ: Can you share with us a few ways that you practice self-care especially as an artists that travels a lot for work? What are some low-cost self-care tips that you can share with our readers?
AA: Sure, but I don’t do anything novel to take care of myself, I just implement what we know works. For one, I take the day after I travel off. Travel is far from glamorous it wreaks havoc on the body’s internal rhythms. If I can’t take the day after travel off because of some looming deadline (usually the case with freelance artists), I then try to at the very least make it a point to sleep in. Sleep is crucial and doesn’t cost a centavo! It’s when most of the body healing takes place—so I honor it. Also, I eat what’s good for the body, especially after travel when healthy food options can be limited. So for a couple of days I will detox when I get home, do the juices and salads and give my body simple, wholesome nourishment. And, yes, I do take that walk or meditate, or read a book, and, for sure, I get off the Internet.
The truth is my work requires that I be present and give of myself energetically to a lot of people. That exchange of energy can be intense and exhausting. I love my work and many of the people I come to know, but it means being real about what I need when I’m not in front of groups. So a lot of my recovery time after travel is precious alone time.
I’ve worked through issues of loneliness, and have learned to value this healthy solitude, to even crave it.
But once I’m recovered from travel, it’s equally about the quality time spent in nurturing relationships. I make it a point to call or meet up with those loved ones who just love me whether I put on a good performance or not. They can hang out without talking about work or asking me about advice on their projects. I don’t mind doing this for my friends, it’s mutual reciprocity and part of that collaborative process we talked about earlier, but it’s still work-related. Even my closest collaborators are dear to me because it’s a balance of work and play. But I’m also indebted to those very few folks in my life who don’t consider themselves artists-activists-academics. That’s the other truth about our communities; they’re comprised of just buena gente. People who make significant change by modeling health, kindness and love. I guess these days my self-care really includes spending time with these kinds of folks too, and all of the sweet children in my life who have this simple agenda: play with me!
Photos courtesy of the artist.